Why the World Cup Matters

p1_Ronaldinho2.jpgOn this the opening day of World Cup 2006, my friend Jason Bybee at Already & Not Yet asks a pertinent question: Does anybody care?

Americans, with their provincial love of “home-grown” sports, high-scoring, slam-bam action and jiggly, twenty-something dancers in next-to-nothing outfits, for the most part have never developed a taste for the nuance and intricacy that enliven the soul of “The Beautiful Game.” Jason went on to ask, “What am I missing?”

After counting to ten and taking a short walk, I returned to my keyboard and typed this reply:

It’s an aquired taste, and when it comes to taste, most Americans don’t have very much.

The rarity of the goals is what makes them special. Unless you have played or coached, it’s difficult to understand just how hard it is to score a goal against a well-organized defense and a smart, athletic keeper.

Unless you have ever experienced the tantalizing frustration of near-goals, the ballet of a ball well-possessed from back to front to back and up top again, unless you have ever seen a sliver of space appear for an instant inside the 18, like heaven itself opening up before you, and unless you’ve witnessed the beauty of a well-struck ball slipping through the left upper 90 like a thread through the eye of a needle, and then the explosion, the pure release of raw energy that is a goal (some have compared it to…you know), then, my friend, you have not experienced true joy.

It is the common language of the world. This week in Honduras, 6 American teenagers took on 6 Honduran youths in their own version of World Cup, played on a field made of donkey dung (USA won). There wasn’t a lot of Spanish or English being spoken, but they all understood each other quite well.

This is boring? Compared to what? A game where we all sit around staring at nine guys with grass growing up between their toes waiting for something to happen?


Why does the World Cup matter? Because “One Game Changes Everything.”

  1. GREG

    Letterman’s top 10 list a night or two ago was “Top Ten Signs You Have World Cup Fever”. #1 on the list was “You’re Not American.” (I liked #7 – “Whenever the mailman shows up you scream, ‘MAAAAAAAAIIIILLLLLLLLL!””)

    I still find it difficult to get excited about soccer. I just didn’t grow up playing it. In 9th grade, those of us not playing (American) football played it during P.E. during football season. I remember really enjoying playing it. But that’s the only time I’ve ever played in any kind of organized fashion, and I haven’t played since.

    My daughter attended about half of a soccer camp here at her school earlier this week. She didn’t like it. So, perhaps if my son decides he likes it when he’s old enough, I’ll get into it a little more. But I’m hoping he’ll be more inclined to play with a different ball and goal… 🙂

  2. Mike the Eyeguy


    Thanks for the hot tip on the Letterman list. Here is “Top Ten Signs You Have World Cup Fever” for those, like me, who were passed out asleep and didn’t catch it the first time.

    My only memory of soccer in high school was playing it in 9th grade PE. If memory serves me correctly, I scored my team’s only goal that day, but ended up jamming my toe pretty badly in the process.

    When Eyegal told me that she had signed up Number One to play rec. soccer when he was 4yo, I responded “You did what?”

    But like I said, it’s an aquired taste, and now years later, I dine often.

    BTW, both Grant Hill and Steve Nash were fine soccer players growing up (Nash’s brother plays professionally). So, basketball and soccer are actually quite complimentary. Still, you better buy your son this.

  3. greg

    Mike, good idea. He already has one of these, but I think he’s outgrown it.

  4. Jason

    As a baseball fan, I can accept the comparison between our two favorite sports. Granted, baseball is an acquired taste, too, a nuanced game of cat and mouse between pitcher & batter, baserunner & catcher, manager & manager. And I’ve often savored a well-pitched, well-defended 1-0 game to a 12-10 slugfest. But hey, chicks dig the long ball.

    I still think soccer would be more popular here in the United States if it were more TV friendly.

  5. Mike the Eyeguy


    Glad to hear that you’re being a responsible father. As opposed to some fathers who would buy their sons Carolina outfits.

  6. Mike the Eyeguy


    As popular as soccer has become in the US over the past 20 years, it still has a long way to go before the average Joe on the street becomes familiar enough with it to appreciate it and develop the attention span to watch it on TV.

    As for TV, it never does any sport justice. I discovered this back in the 80s when I had the privilege of watching Bjorn Borg play Jimmy Connors at the Richmond (VA) Coliseum, and later on, John McEnroe take on Guillermo Vilas in Little Rock.

    I was astounded at how quick the “real thing” was as opposed to TV–there is no comparison. Having just watched the US National Soccer Team play live in Nasville, I had the same impression regarding soccer. It’s much more easy to become absorbed in any sport when you are part of a live crowd and only a short distance from the action than it is in your own home where there are other distractions, such as a computer with an “always on” internet connection and a fridge.

    Be sure to go to “One Game Changes Everything” and then to the ads and watch “Anthem.” I think you’ll like that one.

  7. scott

    Now, tennis I can get into. You score tickets to the US Open or Wimbledon, I’m there.

  8. Mike the Eyeguy

    If I ever get a chance to see Johnny Mac (he was my favorite, bad attitude and all) live again, I’ll jump at the chance. Watching him use that slightly limp-wristed volley of his to take a little speed off the ball and drop it just outside an opponents reach was like watching Michelangelo with a paintbrush–a veritable work of art.

    He’s pushing 50, but is winning consistently on the senior circuit and can still beat guys half his age.

  9. greg

    yeah, mike. carolina outfits border on child abuse. And I’m with Scott, too. I’d love nothing more than a trip to Wimbledon or the US Open. After a trip to Cameron, then the Final Four, of course…

  10. greg

    oh yeah, and I did get to see Mac (my favorite by far) play in the mid-80’s. He played an exhibition here in Little Rock and my dad got us tickets. I think maybe it was the fall after he’d won his last Wimbledon that summer.

  11. Mike the Eyeguy

    I saw him play around September ’83 in Little Rock, but that would have been after his second Wimbledon. I think he won his last one in ’84. Who was his opponent when you saw him? He played G. Vilas when I saw him.

  12. lAURA


    This is alot easier to reply. I never thought in a million years I would be watching soccer on a Sat. afternoon but that is exactly what we are doing. It is def. helpful to have had two children play and my husband coach. If you talk to anyone not from the USA they have their favorite team just like we do football and basketball. If you ever visit another country and you want to draw the kids in just bring out a soccer ball. I have seen this done on missions in Belize and Mexico. As Jamie puts it it is a cheap sport for third world countries. Just a ball and a field is all you need. I agree it is a slow sport to watch on TV but interesting to watch the big guns compete for the world title. There is my two cents, Jason it will never take the place of our Football, Basketball or Baseball here in the states but it is fun to watch every once in a while. This is a sport Kent and I knew nothing about until we signed up our oldest to play at the age of 5 and same for our #2 daughter. I was the one that said I will never get into this sport and ended up screaming for our teams as they are playing. It is hard not to get into if you have children playing.

  13. Mike the Eyeguy


    Thanks for stopping by and chiming in. You’re right about soccer being a “cheap” sport to play, making it accessible to millions in third world countries. Number One said that there was even a “home town” team in San Marcos, Honduras, the smaller mountain town where they worked some this past week.

    They also took several soccer balls with them on the trip. Number One said that at first, it was just the younger kids who came and played with our group while the older kids rode by on their bikes laughing and making fun of our “gringos.”

    Later, some of the older kids finally started hanging out with our group and eventually there was a 6 v. 6 match which took place on a flat piece of ground which Number One found out was made of donkey dung. He also informed that he had really got into the third world spirit of things and played barefoot.

    Number One said it was a great match–“USA” won! That’s all well and good, but I still made him cut his toenails and take a shower when he got home from the airport.

    I wish that soccer could become more popular across socioeconomic lines in the US. As it is, it is mainly an upper-middle class sport.

  14. GREG

    Mike, you’re right. That’s the same time I saw him, with Vilas. I was just fuzzy on the year. I was thinking it was might have been my Sr. year in High School – which would’ve been fall of 84 – but it must’ve been the year before. I’m pretty sure he wasn’t there twice.

  15. Mike the Eyeguy


    So, not only did we live in the same town and not ever meet, but we also attended the same professional tennis match in 1983. We probably even sat next to each other. Weird.

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